A Meditation on Driving

Colin Fiske, CRTP Executive Director

Rainy windshield

In a car-centric society like the United States, it may be surprising to learn that about 30 percent of Americans don’t have a driver’s license. Many non-drivers are kids (let’s not forget about the children!). But a lot of them are older adults, people with disabilities, and people who can’t afford a car. There are also people who choose not to drive. 

But the fact remains: most Americans, and most North Coast residents, have driver’s licenses and use them. Personally, I’m the leader of an organization devoted to encouraging less driving and more walking, biking, rolling and bus riding, and even I still feel like I have to drive sometimes. 

Because driving is a social norm, we often view the world through the windshield of a car – even when we’re not actually driving. In fact, because driving is so deeply integrated into our culture, even non-drivers are often biased in favor of cars as a preferred mode of transportation. Researches have named this “motonormativity.”

In the face of this pervasive bias, I think it’s important to remind ourselves that we are humans first, and drivers second (or third or tenth or not at all). As a first, small step in that direction, I’ve decided to institute a practice of reflecting on the realities of driving before I get behind the wheel each time. You might call it a meditation on driving. 

Here are the truths I intend to reflect on:

Everyone around me is a person, and so am I. We are not drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists, or bus riders; we’re just people using different ways to get from place to place.

Streets and roads are public spaces. The vast majority of public space in our communities has been set aside as streets and roads. Public spaces are shared spaces, and people have a right to use them in a variety of ways – not just driving.

A car is a big, private possession that I take into public spaces. It is not an unalienable constitutional right to drive wherever I want, or to store/park my car wherever I want. Space to drive and to park is a convenience that comes at the cost of other potential uses of space. It has to be balanced with other needs like housing, open space, other modes of transportation, and access for people with disabilities.

A car is an extremely dangerous machine. It’s shockingly easy to kill or die when operating one of these machines. When I’m driving, I have a moral responsibility to do so safely and carefully.

Of course, this list is not complete. There are lots of other aspects of driving a car that are important to remember, but are often overlooked. If you want to join me in this reflective practice, I encourage you to come up with your own list! And if you do, we’d love to know how it goes. You can contact CRTP via our website, transportationpriorities.org.